New data dashboard to help councils deal with local Covid19 outbreaks

Council public health departments are shortly due to have access to a new Covid19 data dashboard, it seems. The data will apparently be localised enough to be useful in identifying and containing/suppressing any local outbreaks of Covid 19, eg at schools, hospitals, workplaces or in streets or blocks of flats.

This was revealed yesterday by Leeds City Council chief Tom Riordan, according to a report in the Local Government Chronicle

Tom Riordan is the lead for contact tracing on the committee, chaired by Baroness Harding, that oversees the privatised national Covid19 test/trace scheme.

This privatised system has bypassed existing NHS and Public health notifiable disease and contact tracing procedures, that for decades have successfully contained and eliminated outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Late and complicated system for notifying Council’s public health department of Covid19 infections

As a result, the government has now had to set up a delayed and complicated system for getting local data back to local Councils and Clinical Commissioning Groups. Because the privatised Covid 19 testing and tracing system sent the data god knows where, to be stored in god knows what databases.

The data that now come through to Councils about Covid19 tests and contacts of people who test positive, seem to be from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Debs Harkins, director of public health for Calderdale Council, told the Local Government Chronicle that because of gaps in this data she does not know how many people in Calderdale have been tested altogether for Covid-19. This throws into doubt the data on positive test cases, which suggests low incidence of Covid 19 in Calderdale.

How does this new data dashboard work?

It seems the new Covid19 data dashboard, which is for use by directors of public health, council representatives and clinical commissioning groups,

“combines three data sources: NHS Digital’s Covid-19 national testing programme database, the consolidated data covering the National Testing Programme and the 111/999 data about the rate of calls relating to Covid-19.”

Local Government Chronicle report

Is the “consolidated data covering the national testing programme” the Joint Biosecurity Centre data that Councils already receive? But broken down more finely, so local outbreaks can be identified?

And what’s NHS Digital’s Covid-19 national testing programme database? This is what I found when I looked online for it: basically, that it’s impossible to find what’s on it.

Clicking on the Standards and collections link takes you here, with the information that:

Data Coordination Board (DCB) activity suspended

Formal DCB activity is paused to allow resources to be diverted to support frontline activity in the response to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Missing pieces in Calderdale’s Covid19 jigsaw

Whatever the data sources, the new data dashboard will apparently allow Councils and Clinical Commissioning Groups to view anonymised data on the total number of tests conducted, as well the total number of positive tests, including a rolling average timescale at council level.

Whether it will include data about the number of PEOPLE tested, and the number of negative tests, remains to be seen.

Deborah Harkins told the Local Government Chronicle that the new data dashboard,

“…is the missing pieces in the jigsaw and really will help us manage local circumstances and protect people locally.
“So if we have track and trace data and we can see a few cases emerging, and 111 calls made in this area, that will enable us to deliver bespoke local messages  to those people about staying at home and getting tested – and to make them understand to separate themselves from the vulnerable.”

Too little, too late, too privatised, too unlawful?

This British Medical Journal blog post is a useful explanation of How the erosion of our public health system hobbled England’s covid-19 response.

The Department of Health’s first Weekly NHS Test and Trace bulletin 28 May- 3 June 2020 shows that over that week, 31,794 contacts of people who tested positive for Covid19 were identified. Of these, 26,985 were reached and asked to self isolate.

But only 8,117 people who tested Covid19 positive were transferred into the government’s contact tracing system. And of these, Serco only got in touch with 5, 278 contacts. The remaining 21,707 contacts were traced by public health teams.

This does seem to beg the question of what Serco is being paid for – apart from cementing its position in the NHS, as its Chief Executive has notoriously announced.

This is a question that many people are asking. The recent Survation poll found that only 27% of people have confidence that Serco will “manage their track and trace programme contract effectively”.

An even bigger question is – why did the government bypass the legal process for notifying Covid19 infections directly to local public health authorities?

Notifiable diseases process has not happened during Covid 19 pandemic

The legal procedure for notifiable diseases such as Covid19, is for GPs to directly inform their local Public Health authority about patients with notifiable diseases. This doesn’t even need a test – diagnosis on the basis of symptoms is ok.

This means local public health departments can act swiftly to contain and suppress any outbreaks.

But that system has been bypassed for the Covid 19 pandemic. From the start, the government told people not to contact their GPs if they have Covid19 symptoms, but to go on the NHS 111 website instead, or call 111 if need be.

As a result, neither GPs nor Councils’ public health departments have had a clue about the whereabouts and numbers of people with Covid19, and how to get in touch with their contacts. Not exactly great for containing and suppressing the virus.

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